Hand Drumming Independence
Hand Drumming Independence Book
Hand Drumming Excursions
Hand Drumming Excursions Book

by Kenne Thomas
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These books address issues facing many percussionists who play hand drums, or multi-percussion instruments-using both hands equally. Hand Drumming Independence focuses on technique for alternating hand movements on drums. Hand Drumming Excursions explores rhythmic extentions and cultural aspects of patterns. The books have numerous exercises and examples and patterns to develop hand dexterity. Photo illustrations are given to show hand positions. Reference notes and material is added for musical and cultural understanding. Also included is a collection of bass drum patterns and bell patterns to accompany and support hand drummers.

Being able to play and move around smoothly without having to crossover, or be dependent on playing something with a particular hand, is a necessity in the ever expanding world of ethnic percussion. A good way to start would be to do simple exercises such as the following material based on the book Hand Drumming Independence. Repeat each exercise a number of times to get a feel for the cadence, volume, and handstrokes.


[ r, l, r, l, r, l, r, l ] (REPEAT)

This is a hand to hand exercise. Now switch hands. And, with the aid of a metronome, keep as precise time as you can. The beats can be realized as 1/8th notes or 1/16th notes in a duple meter.


[ l, r, l, r, l, r, l, r ] (REPEAT)

With expansion, triplets can be actuated, in 12/8 time, or 6/8 time.


[ l, r, l, r, l, r, | l, r, l, r, l, r ] (REPEAT)

This seems simple enough. Now add a bass note. Keep a steady pulse, preferably audible from a metronome. Begin slowly with an authoritative bass. Following are patterns in a sequence. This is a simple "wheel" to be played with a metronome counting off the primary beat(s).


[ L, r, l, r, l, r, l, r ] (REPEAT)

[ l, r, L, r, l, r, l, r ] (REPEAT)

[ l, r, l, r, L, r, l, r ] (REPEAT)

[ l, r, l, r, l, r, L, r ] (REPEAT)

[ L, r, l, r, L, r, l, r ] (REPEAT)

[ l, r, L, r, l, r, L, r ] (REPEAT)

[ L, r, L, r, l, r, l, r ] (REPEAT)

[ l, r, L, r, L, r, l, r ] (REPEAT)

[ l, r, l, r, L, r, L, r ] (REPEAT)

[ L, r, l, r, l, r, L, r ] (REPEAT)

Do these again but switch the hand symbols making your dominant hand, or right hand, play the bass notes. Then switch back and do them with your weak hand leading. You probably can hear the difference in tonal coloration. This shows areas which should be worked on for hand independence.

Now I would like to show a standard African hand drum pattern emphasizing the weak hand and contrasting it with the strong hand. The sound difference will be quite noticable to the player who is unaccustomed to "attacking" with their weak hand. Begin the exercise at a reasonably slow tempo to mentally "read" the hand positions, accents, spacing, and volume. A dash is written for a beat which is not played. This is a "rest", in musical terminology.


[ L, -, -, r, L, -, r, -, L, -, -, r, L, -, r, - ] (REPEAT)

The same pattern can be realized with a right hand lead.


[ R, -, -, l, R, -, l, -, R, -, -, l, R, -, l, - ] (REPEAT)

sound sampleListen to the audio to hear the exercise.

Now play this with an alternating transition.


[ L, -, -, r, L, -, r, -, L, -, -, r, L, -, r, l, | R, -, -, l, R, -, l, -, R, -, -, l, R, - l, r ] (REPEAT)

Often a player would just double the last (r, l or, l, r) as (l, l or, r, r) to keep their dominant hand as the accent, fundamental, or bass tone.

EXAMPLE: [ R, -, -, l, R, -, l, -, R, -, -, l, R, -, l, l ] (REPEAT)

Worse yet, someone may try to use their dominant hand within the rotation and return to the fundamental, or bass tone with that same dominant hand.

EXAMPLE: [ R, -, -, l, R, -, l, -, R, -, -, l, R, -, l, r ] (REPEAT)

sound sampleListen to the audio to hear the exercise.

Though not wrong, this does not give the player much flexibilty to involve differing movement possibilties or incorporate other instruments. Also, this movement is tempo dictated. At brisk tempi same hand repetitions are all but impossible. The performer is forced to move their primary hand to whatever event they are to do next. And in many cases that may not be the best choice. The alternating pattern should, in addition to increasing the strength and dexterity of the player, allow them to adapt to any given situation that may occur. The option of doubling is still there. And more importantly it remains just that, an option, rather than a necessity. Practice this at different tempos after if becomes comfortable. it will naturally flow after a while.

Oral soundings for these beats and rhythms will help you internalize the patterns. It is useful for beginners as well as seasoned professionals, to verbalize a pattern. Non-western cultures, which haven't, or hadn't, adopted strict notational systems, have been using oral forms of pattern transmission for centuries.
Hand Drumming Excursions focuses on more elaborate rhythmic structures as well as culturally specific rhythms. An oral transmission method is employed in this book to emulate authenticity.

"The Gun go Pa notation"

This method of notation is most frequently applied to Jembe performance practice. Promoted by the renown Master Drummer, "Babatunde Olatunji", it is established as a trusted method of oral pattern transmission.
Following is a previously done pattern written in "Gun go Pa" with a Slap added. It is written again with a dash as the rest, or space. This rest, or space, is usually symbolic of a held tone.



The [ Pa, Ta, Gn ] and, [ Ta, Pa, Dn ] are areas which probably create the most problems because of the switch of hands. Once again it is good to start practicing this at a slow tempo. Increasing the tempo, gradually when a comfort level is attained, will build confidence and proficiency.

The next exercise illustrates the dexterity needed to play a hand drum with an ambidextrous approach. It should be taken slowly to recognize the proper muscle control and hand positions necessary. Actuated in duple meter it is even in pulse and allows for a balanced metric feel, or step.



sound sampleListen to the audio to hear this exercise.

As this pattern shows, doubling is eliminated, increasing the players overall control of the instrument and allowing the player to break the pattern, do a different event, and come back to the pattern, in stride, at any time, without worrying about which hand leads, or, being dependent upon any one hand.

Following is a pattern which draws its nuance from non-western tradition. To become comfortable with the following exercise the player must section off the pattern and then connect each section smoothly. It must be attempted slowly, to become acquainted with the proper muscle control and hand positions necessary, since there is no balanced bounce in the pattern to aid in cadential recognition.

The metric division can be realized as:

3/8 + 3/8 + 2/8 + 3/8+ 4/8

This turns out to be a pattern in 15, with 15 beats, or pulses to the sequence before it is repeated. The divisions are defined by the bass tones played in the pattern, although a different realization can be done also.



sound sampleListen to the audio to hear the exercise.

Independence, or ambidexterity opens up the world of percussion to a player and allows them the freedom to choose instrument placement freely. It facilitates unlimited an unhampered mobility within an array of instruments. I can recall myself, some years ago during a conert in Winnipeg, Canada how it felt like a breath of fresh air to be able to move around the percussion set-up without worrying about cumbersome handcrossings to play an instrument.

Just using one hand drum is a start. The reliance on strong hand lead, or dominance, can be eliminated. You will hopefully be thankful for the effort later. The two books, Hand Drumming Independence and the companion, Hand Drumming Excursions present lessons, exercises and rhythm patterns which can help facilitate a fluid left to right and right to left hand motions.


Contact the author, Kenne Thomas by email for information about these books.

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